Evolution of Digital Marketing: The Biggest Changes from the Past Ten Years

The past 20 years have been monumental in setting up the present world of digital marketing. Back in the early 2000s, print and direct mail were imperative steps in spreading the word about a campaign. Additionally, people received their news primarily from newspapers or other forms of print media, giving advertisers another huge platform to place their ads. 


Mass communication originated in 1450 with the invention of the printing press. Print advertising followed in the 1730s, radio emerged in 1922 and television appeared in 1954. In the 1990s, the home computer began to take the world by storm, introducing another market for advertisers. In 1996, about two years after the rise of mass-market browsers, over 70 million people were surfing the web. This led to the introduction of search platforms like Google in 1997 and online shopping sites like Amazon in 1994. Marketing shifted drastically to online platforms as brand awareness was generated through emails, search engine optimization and websites. Now, a digital presence is required for any business hoping to gain customers and raise awareness. 


In 2005, advertisers began realizing that online efforts could complement their more traditional methods. This led to the popularity of blogs as a way to interact with customers. This began with larger companies like Microsoft or General Motors creating constant blog-posts to help boost search engine optimization. More and more businesses began growing their blog presence to become more personable to customers. People began to realize customer/company interaction was well within their reach. 

The iPhone 

In 2007, the digital marketing landscape shifted once again with the introduction of the first iPhone. This brand new device took off immediately, generating Apple $6 billion in sales (that number has now surpassed $1.1 trillion). The invention of the smartphone granted people constant access to the internet and opened up a new world of marketing possibilities. Today, over 2 billion people around the world have smartphones. 

In 2007, the global digital marketing spend was a mere $1.7 billion (compared to the $143 billion spent in 2017). This year, digital marketing through smartphones is expected to make up more than half of the global digital ad spend. In these early days, smartphone advertising consisted of pop-up ads whenever a consumer visited a website. These were extremely unpopular and brought about the integration of native ads beginning in 2013. In fact, customers named popup ads one of the most hated advertising techniques. These ads existed on the webpages but were integrated into the site. This allowed the customer to receive their information in an uninterrupted manner, while still receiving information from the advertiser—a technique that is still wildly popular today. 

Today, native advertising is accepted by more than 80 per cent of consumers. Advertisers go where their target audience resides and does not interrupt their prospective buyers from their experience on these other websites. 


2005 also marked the rise of YouTube and a new type of video marketing called “viral videos.” In 2007, this trend hit the advertising world and brands began to battle for the coveted “viral” honour. By 2017, videos were one of the top marketing tactics, with more than 50 per cent of users wanting to see videos from the brands they admired. Additionally, video marketing was able to go hand-in-hand with the rise of social media, with both efforts taking off around the same time. Now, both video and social advertising are key in a well-rounded and effective campaign. 

Social Media

The early 2000s saw a rise of several of the social platforms we still use today—Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. However, it took several years for them to pick up speed and amass a variety of users. Around 2013, marketers began to see these platforms as more than just social networks. Facebook began to partner with data analysts like Epsilon and Datalogix to get full profiles on each of their users—an invaluable tool for advertisers. Now, each of Facebook’s 2.37 billion users can be tracked by over 1,500 individualized data points. 

Nowadays, your Facebook profile is an open book to advertisers seeking to sell you the perfect product. Facebook’s data tracking can pick up on your demographic and personality based on your search terms and posts. Advertisers can then place you in niche groups and create targeted ads tailored to your specific interests. For example, a craft store in Portland can set up their own audience and target moms in Oregon who have kids between the ages of 3 and 12.


Marketing has always sought out the consumer, seeking to integrate ads in native situations that can almost feel natural. The digital space has not altered this end goal but has introduced several key learnings to keep afloat in a digital media-driven society. 


  • Consumer Dominance has been imperative ever since the rise of marketing. People want to buy from companies who they trust and who support their efforts. Customer service and interaction have become integrated into every successful campaign. Additionally, brands must do consistent market research to determine what their consumers want. The millennial market, now the leading group on consumers, looks for businesses that foster connection and relationships. Brands that treat their consumers as collaborators have truly begun to thrive within this market. 
  • Expected Immediacy. The average person spends four hours a day on their smartphones and has grown to trust digital media for real-time updates. Brands can play on this by creating social statuses that parody or acknowledge current events. Additionally, marketing automation has almost become imperative for brands juggling multiple platforms. The average person has seven social media accounts, up from just three accounts in 2014. Their consumers expect consistent updates across all forms of media they use—which soon becomes a job for more than one person. 
  • Targeted Messages. Digital marketing introduced infinite targeting possibilities. Brands are able to dissect their market into individual demographics from location, age, ethnicity, occupation, interests and more. These targeted ads are able to influence decisions easier than traditional ads. 
  • Influencer Marketing. Influencers have experienced an unprecedented rise, quickly becoming the fastest growing brand activation channel. In fact, in 2017, influencer marketing was used by 86 per cent of businesses. These influencers are just normal people who use social media to foster a personal connection with their followers. They are seen by their followers as real-life customers who can share authentic reviews. They have the trust of thousands of consumers with buying power, making influencers an extremely valuable marketing tool. 


It’s clear that digital marketing has found success in an ever-changing market and will probably look completely different in the next five years. However, the root of all marketing is still the same—foster a relationship with the consumer to raise brand awareness. It’s a tried and true technique that will journey into any new digital marketing techniques that arise.